Renuka Kirpalani: We've just experienced the Rubicon Trail in the new Wrangler, but is that solid off-roading capability always going to be the Jeep DNA, or do you feel compelled that because of how markets are changing, you might need to move towards a soft-roader at some point of time?
Steve Zanlunghi: Yes, absolutely. The Jeep brand was born and raised off-road; it is the brand's DNA. Every Jeep that we build will have our functional pillars – freedom, passion, adventure and authenticity. I think the Rubicon Trail absolutely magnifies what the DNA is, which is that authenticity of being off-road. So yes, we'll have the Jeep Wrangler, which will always be our icon, but then we'll also have other variants in the Jeep line-up that may not be the full four-wheel-drive, go-across-the-Rubicon-Trail type, because we do cater to a growing SUV market, and we understand people might not always want that capability. The Jeep Wrangler, however, will always have that capability and functionality.
Q: For decades, Jeep has been a very strong American brand. What is your strategy to make the brand more global?
SZ: If you look back to 2014, we were only building vehicles and industrialising in one country and that was the US; now, we've expanded to building in six different countries where we have assembly plants. So, what we're doing is we're getting into localisation. Obviously, now we're expanding from just building in the US to building Jeeps in Italy, Brazil, China, Mexico, and also obviously in India.
Q: Jeep has previously maintained that the Wrangler will only be assembled in the US but do you think that will change over a period of time because, to expand your footprint, you would need to localise, especially in markets like ours.
SZ: Yeah absolutely, you need to localise, but the Jeep Wrangler in particular will always be built in the US because that is our icon. And for certain markets where you have high duties, like in India, the Wrangler becomes an icon or a halo vehicle. We obviously did the research and the Jeep Compass has been very well received in the Indian market, and we do have an assembly plant there, and we are looking at and studying other projects too.
Q: What is your strategy to keep the Compass moving in India?
SZ: When we launched the Compass in India, it blew away all our expectations with how popular it was. And what we were doing – and it's part of the strategy – was a long-term strategy and not a short-term one, because we know we're building the brand in India. We weren't there two years ago, and I believe the Jeep brand there has big equity, so what we're doing is to keep the Compass fresh and alive, we're going to bring different variants; within the next six months, you will see a few other variants of the Compass that we've been working on for a while.
Q: There's also been talk of a B-SUV, that it has been delayed or it may not come to India at all – what can you tell us about that?
SZ: We're not going to comment on future products. We are studying two additional vehicles for the Indian market – nothing's been confirmed but we are studying all the different options that we have that would be specific and would fit the Indian market. We also use the Indian market not just for local production but also as an export hub to right-hand-drive markets such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, UK, so we're very proud and happy to have that localised production for the Indian market as well as for export markets.
Q: When you're building future products, do you intend to build and assemble them in India and then use them for export as well?
SZ: It just depends on the type of product. If the product does fit other markets that are right-hand-drive, then we can export.